The feastday of Sts. Cyril and Methodius (Feb 14, sharing the calendar with Valentine's Day) reminds me of the role of monks in the religious formation in central Europe and Russia (in the 9th Century). Actually these two monks in addition to St. Benedict and later monks, were most influential in the spiritual story of the underpinnings of the European continent. And we know, of course, that friars founded by St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Dominic Guzman, and others, added to this spiritual formation as well.
I don't know firsthand if the great Monasteries in Europe had their compliment of mice, but I'd rather think so, certainly rats in the fields and farming areas especially in/near bales of hay. The reason I bring this up is that in my few years as a monk, there were mice in our monastery as well, and that was in 1998-2002, a time of almost five years when we had this ancient house in Massachusetts. You see, the superior had a room on the 2nd floor underneath a stairwell, and the backwall had no facing (sheetrock) and was open to the area under the roof generally known as a crawl-attic. And he was a good person who never hurt an animal, and he often put out a dish with some bread and maybe even a delectable piece of cheese for the mice... Well, this probably wasn't wise, but there you have it. Monks and Mice just go together.
Even though I am a very happy lay Franciscan, and wouldn't have it any other way, I still miss the monastery. Maybe because the house I now occupy is also very silent. That's what happens when one lives in a retirement community. Since much of Florida is for retirees, those are easy to find. Some people would go crazy with total silence. I used to listen to my stereo, and I still do, but invariably I am very content with total silence. Maybe because there is so much noise everywhere else. My tolerance for silence isn't because of age or early sinility ... as webmaster of two websites my mind is always in motion, and in fact that's good. Many old or older people who lack brainy activity do get sick out of pure boredom. I am never bored, well, maybe when there are too many commercials interupting a good TV show. In the first place, there are so few great TV shows, and then when there are some, they are constantly interrupted by commercial of products I wouldn't acquire anyway! Can't afford a luxury car, and don't need one. Can't afford to buy a house in Florida as the taxes and insurance nowadays would be unpayable. So to all the advertising, put a cork on it!
All this silence invites an ongoing conversation or thought pattern with Jesus as the focalpoint. Jesus and Mary, and the angels and saints, are never too far from my mind, especially when I am writing stories on this website. Also, when I think of animals, I praise the Lord for the many wonderful companions He provides. Anyway, mice in a monastery isn't all that healthy but they've got to live too, right!? So do the advertisers and those who make a living in that industry. There is a pro and con in everything, and I get along great with people because I can easily see both sides of an issue. Some say I am never able to make up my mind but I am not a fence-sitter. I do take sides, eventually.
Religious life is a special experience. The spiritual bond one has with a fellow monk, for example, is strong and Christ-like. At least that's what it should be. It is unfortunate that because of the times we are in, some monastic experiences weren't so stellar, but I must say that my experiences were just great. Unfortunately, vocations who are committed to what they set out to do, provided their vocations are real, are few and far between. I have met a great many people in my life who thought they had a vocation but in truth they were running away from life's responsibilities and they did not last. This is very hard on religious orders that are small to begin with, as it is not possible for them to have their postulancy and novitiate separate from the rest of the monks and friars. I used to think that wasn't so good, but as time went on, I could see the sense of such a separation between these groups of people and the professed members.
In secular institutes, such as the Secular Franciscan Order, that is true also. Since we do not share the same house, or living space, only our formation is, at times, separate from the rest of the Order's members, and that is as it should be. Secular Franciscans are a genuine Order in the Church, but they are not monks or friars by any means. I assure you, however, that great holiness is possible among all devout people even those who live in the world.
Be kind to one another. Respect those with whom you live and/or pray. Anyone! Everywhere! The Lord is always watching, not in a punitive way but as a loving Father or Shepherd. Get this old-fashioned idea out of your heads, that God sits in Heaven waiting for us to make a mistake. That's not it at all. He is waiting for us to greet Him with joy in our hearts and souls, and to praise Him because we love Him as He loves us. Some people say 'too much' when I talk of God's love for them. They object on the grounds that they do not feel His love as they ought, because they are unsatisfied with their lives. Nothing brings them happiness, they say, because all they love is material. But if you love God, and love your neighbor as you love yourself, then you will feel the glow and light of His love and all will be well until the end of time. Mice notwithstanding!
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
February 14, 2011